The anthropologist, Richard Turner, famously wrote about the rituals which marked the major life changes of tribal societies: birth and naming of the child, coming of age, marriage and death. He found that in these close-knit societies bound by a common belief system, fixed roles and habitual ways of doing things, these rituals allowed people space to temporarily break the rules, to throw off habits and beliefs and to freely explore, before returning to normal life, having been inducted into a new role – no longer a boy but a man sort of thing (what a relief if we could get adolescence over and done with, in five days, rather than it taking 10 years).
During these rituals a feeling of communitas exists between those involved, a relating in freedom at a deep level, the basis of a true democracy. This feeling is then taken back to the community and re-energises the habitual day to day living.
The concept is much loved by theatre practitioners, in the belief that during a good performance, the feeling of communitas can exist between actors and audience. It can also occur in the more temporary communities with which we are familiar: for example, on a protest march or occupation, or on the picket line. It can also exist in the more mundane community working bee – Che was keen on this sort of work.
It certainly existed last Saturday night in Blackball at a 70th birthday party. For Jane Wells, whose birthday it was, managed to foster this feeling quite often when she was proprietor of the Hilton. Her 70th, held at the pub, was a reminder of that ability, as her diverse friends and family came together.
Her ability to create community always fascinated me. I would watch a look of childhood wonder come over the faces of hardened urbanites as they found themselves in the midst of a local ritual.
What are the ingredients? First of all, a confined space without escape routes – most pubs are set up on a nooks and crannies basis so your group can hide away – the Hilton isn’t. Secondly, a generosity so that the event is outside of the market place. Sadly, most community events nowadays focus on buying and selling the same tired old stuff: jumble, craft and muffins. Thirdly, music, dancing and singing to lift perception. Finally, there needs to be a reason for the event.
Jane’s ability to create communitas made the Hilton iconic. I remember a Dutchman who had flown around the world to mark the coming of the new millennium at the Blackball Hilton.
So, Jane, let me pay homage and wish you well for many years to come.